Day 6 |
Aug 12, 2013

Qaqortoq and Hvalsey, Greenland

By by Christian Walter, Historian

Co-ordinates: 60° 43’ 82” N, 46° 02’ 10” W (noon position=alongside in Qaqortoq)
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 10,4° C
Pressure:992 hPa
Wind:7,6 kmh

The bow-thruster’s sound at 6 a.m. was a give-away that we were very close to the harbor of Qaqortoq. Normally we stay at anchor in Qaqortoq, but today we would make use of the very small pier – this would be the last opportunity to bunker for Silver Explorer, and as a result we would just have to step off the ship to be in the center of town.

Qaqortoq has only 3,200 inhabitants (including the surrounding small settlements), but still is Greenland’s fourth-largest town! Founded in 1775, several of the older colonial buildings still grace the town center and are in use as a museum, a restaurant, or the bakery. One of only two fountains in Greenland can be seen here, and the old church is nearby.

Qaqortoq’s unique feature is the “Stone and Man” project that was carried out during the summers of 1993 and 1994. The local artist Aka Hoegh had proposed to use some of the local stones and rock-faces in their original positions and change the hard granite into a permanent outdoor gallery. 18 Nordic artists came and gave the rocks their own specific marks.

During our very informative walking-tour, JJ, our local guide, mentioned that today would be the first day of school for the children, and this marks a major event in their lives. Both boys and girls would dress in the traditional Greenlandic costumes, as would many of their parents. Since this was to happen after 12:30 p.m., and would coincide with our official departure time, Robin conferred with Captain Maggie, and both agreed that instead of leaving on time, we should see this as a welcome change to our program and itinerary. Accordingly, all guests were informed that we would stay until 2:30 p.m., and many took the opportunity to see the youngsters and their parents coming to school. Many of the relatives of the children had come as well and were taking pictures. While we used (normal) cameras they mostly used their smart-phones!

Apart from having unusual photo-opportunities, we also observed a very special way of celebrating: relatives of the boys and girls being called to meet their teachers for the first time were throwing candy and coins into the air - much to the joy of the other kids (and grown-ups), as they were eagerly searching for the “gifts” that had fallen onto the spectators.

Before I joined my fellow travelers at the school, I climbed the hill behind the cemetery in search of the same look-out that had been used for the painting I had shown during yesterday’s recap. I managed to get a good view of the town, but several modern buildings were partly obscuring the older buildings.

On the way down to the school, I had noticed a sign indicating that a local workshop was open, and visitors welcome. Three locals were carving narwhale tusk, reindeer antler or stone into small pieces of art: a seal, an Inuit, a Polar bear, and earrings were visible, with other pendants or figurines ready to be taken to a shop – or to be sold directly. As the prices were quite accessible I reserved a small seal for myself and left in search of the local bank or an ATM. Both were pointed out to me at the local tourist office, and after purchasing the seal I was able to indicate this shop to others – who were equally as pleased, and bought several items.

My last money was spent on postcards and stamps, and just before it was time to get back onto Silver Explorer, I had finished writing the postcards and posted them.

The distance to our next stop, the Norse ruins at Hvalsey, was not that far and we were able to go scouting at 4:00 p.m., with guests following us ashore at 4:30 p.m. Hvalsey had been selected by Thorkel Farserk, a cousin to Erik the Red, during the original Norse colonizing expedition, and the area chosen was quite pleasant. Although we did not see any horses or cows, the sheep droppings left behind very clearly indicated that this was an excellent pasture.

The church – Greenland’s biggest and best-preserved ruin from the Viking period - had impressive dimensions (16x8 m), but the south wall seemed to be bulging and even in danger of collapsing. Well, this was also the erroneous view of several earlier visitors, but it was found out to be less dramatic than believed. In 1999 a restoration project actually propped up the wall, and the rest was still as seen some 600 years ago. The last known recorded events at the church date back to 1407 where two Icelanders were married.

Both Peter and I took groups of about 25-30 guests each on a walk to the ruins of the church, the main dwelling, and partly restored great hall complex. Juan positioned himself on the cliff above the ruins, ready to explain the geology of the site, and Aiello and Uli were on the beach pointing out different things to be seen at low tide. The 90 minutes allocated to each group seemed to fly, and as soon as we knew it we were back onboard for dinner.

A quick moment to socialize in the Panorama Lounge and then the final touches to today’s log. An eventful day to remember, thanks to Captain Maggie’s and Robin’s decision to postpone our departure and be part of a colorful local event.